Russian MPs claim US supplied missile that destroyed jet over Syria
Russian politicians have claimed the US and its allies supplied an anti-aircraft missile used to shoot down a Russian jet over Syria, as Moscow increased attacks on rebels in the country's Idlib province and amid reports of government gas attacks.
The Su-25 "Frogfoot" was hit on Saturday while on a bombing run over the northern town of Saraqeb, Idlib. The pilot, Roman Filipov, ejected from the aircraft but was killed shortly after.
Frants Klintsevich, the deputy chairman of the defence committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, claimed that the US had helped to supply the "effective, high-tech" man-portable air defence system, or Manpad, which shot down the Su-25.
"They [anti-aircraft missiles] cannot get into the territory without serious support and outside escort," he was reported as saying by The Times.
"It was done by the Americans through third countries. And it will cost them dearly with this background of Russophobia. We are not threatening anyone, but we are warning."
Dmitri Sablin, the co-ordinator of the Russia-Syria parliamentary friendship group, added: "There is information that the Manpad used to bring down our jet was brought into Syria from a neighbouring country several days ago.
It was done by the Americans through third countries. And it will cost them dearly
- Frants Klintsevich, deputy chairman of Russian parliament's defence committee
"Countries from whose territory weapons arrive, which are then used against Russian servicemen, must understand that this will not go unpunished."
Reports in Moscow said Syrian special forces had been sent to find remains of the launcher, but provided no solid evidence of the weapon's origin
The US has repeatedly denied it has supplied anyone in the Syrian conflict with Manpads - a weapon that, were it to fall into the wrong hands, would be a direct threat to civil aviation.
"The United States has never provided Manpad missiles to any group in Syria," Heather Nauert, a state department spokeswoman, said.
"We are deeply concerned that such weapons are being used."
Raising the ceiling
Russia on Monday ordered its aircraft to fly at higher altitudes to prevent further losses. The relatively slow Su-25 is primarily used in a low-altitude, ground attack role which leaves it vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles and anti-aircraft guns.
Nevertheless, Russian jets stepped up their attacks on Idlib overnight, with reports of bombing runs on Saraqeb and other towns including Kafr Nubl, Maasran, Maarat-al Numan and Idlib.
The government of Syria was also on Sunday accused of launching a chemical attack on Saraqeb, causing breathing problems in at least five people.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a "foul smell after government helicopters struck several areas of the town in Idlib province, causing five civilians to suffer from suffocation".
Videos supplied by the White Helmets, a civil defence and rescue organisation, showed civilians being washed down and treated for gas exposure. The latest developments come as the US accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons on opposition forces near the capital Damascus.
Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, said on Friday his government was concerned sarin gas may have been recently used in Syria, citing reports from NGOs and rebel groups.
The Syrian foreign ministry denied the accusations as "lies".
'This is for the boys'
Moscow initially claimed their pilot, Filipov, had been shot dead by rebels soon after landing in the Saraqeb area.
However, video posted on Sunday appeared to show him detonating a grenade as rebels neared his position.
The state-funded Russia Today network reported that Filipov shouted "this is for the boys" before an explosion is heard and a column of smoke rises from his position.
Several rebels who were stood near the explosion are believed to have been either killed or injured.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a rebel faction dominated by al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria, Nusra, claimed it had shot down the Russian jet.
Mahmoud al-Turkmani, a senior commander, said the attack was in retaliation for Russian bombing campaign.
"This is the least we can do to avenge our people. Let the criminal invaders know that our skies are not a picnic and they will not pass through without paying a price," he said.